05/07/2013 1:06PM

Golden Gate: Morris has full plate in TOC role


Golden Gate Fields general manager Joe Morris likes to be in the thick of the action, and he’ll have plenty of action in his new job as president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California. Morris will assume his new role June 16 after the end of the current Golden Gate Fields meeting.

Morris begins his position with the TOC – the representative for California horsemen – during a time of turmoil in the state, including the possible closure of Betfair Hollywood Park at the end of the year. Hollywood has committed to running through its fall meet, but it is uncertain whether it will conduct racing next year or if the track will be closed and the property developed.

“There certainly are some challenges going on,” Morris said. “There are some challenges that need to be addressed.”

Trainer Ed Moger Jr., chairman of the TOC’s Northern California Racing Committee, noted that Morris is qualified for the task at hand.

“He’s stepping in at a bad time, but he has a horse racing background,” Moger said. “He has a farm in Kentucky. He’s been in the business a long time, and he did a good job running Golden Gate Fields.”

Although Morris is leaving Golden Gate, his imprint will be felt for years to come.

He introduced a popular 50-cent minimum pick-five bet, and when Golden Gate opens after the fair racing season, his plan for a 10-cent Rainbow 6 wager will come to fruition.

He also has put in place a hand-held betting system for ontrack bettors that operates through the track’s wi-fi network. He is adding small flat-screen television sets and money-on-account wagering from box seats.

Morris, who races both Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds, has helped revive Golden Gate Fields from the racing doldrums with player-friendly moves like the new wagers and reducing takeout on some bets.

Morris and racing secretary David Jerkens were able to add several stakes, including a $100,000 race for 2-year-old fillies last October, and they tried to entice more horses to come to Golden Gate with incentives for newcomers.

“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished over the last year and a half,” Morris said. “We’re back to profitability. Our handle is up over 4 percent, and we’re averaging over seven starters a race.”

Jerkens said, “I think he did position things so we’re better off now.”

Morris thinks he can be a positive force with the TOC and its relationship with track management and other industry groups because he truly understands the dynamics of both the frontside and backside of the track.

“I’m not a micro-manager,” he said. “I’m a big believer in communication. The TOC has given us creativity to get things done. It’s given us tools to turn things around. This is not a time for fighting. If we disagree on something, we don’t want to let that stop progress.”

Morris sees increasing field size as the biggest challenge facing California racing. To that end, he said he will try to recruit more owners to the state.

Moger said Northern California horsemen appreciated that Morris did try to open doors of communication between them and management.

“At Golden Gate, he was always out, coming around, talking to people,” he said. “Joe’s good at that. It’s good when a person is out looking to meet people and talking to owners.”

Derby wagering strategy

Northern California bettors may have an inside track in Triple Crown races – wager on a former Northern California jockey.

Joel Rosario, who rode 141 winners at Golden Gate and Bay Meadows while based here in 2006-07, guided Orb to the Kentucky Derby title on Saturday.

Last year, former Northern California rider Mario Gutierrez rode I’ll Have Another to wins in the Derby and Preakness.

In 2010, former local rider Martin Garcia got the ball rolling with Lookin At Lucky, who won the Preakness. Garcia also rode 2011 Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty.

Baze puts in another strong week

After being shut out last Thursday, leading rider Russell Baze did well the rest of the week, recording 10 victories to boost his career total to 11,927. He leads the meet with 120 victories, well ahead of runner-up Dennis Carr, who has 88.

Baze’s win total is the second-highest in the world. South American jockey Jorge Ricardo has 11,979 victories.